Articles - The Mines of Las Flores Canyon

The Mines of Las Flores Canyon

By Hugh Blanchard

Only several hundred yards separate Las Flores Canyon (Canyon of the Flowers) from the popular Echo Mountain Trail at the top of Lake Avenue in Altadena. But while hundreds of hikers  ascend the Echo Mountain Trail every week only a handful venture into the canyon and  few go very far.

You first pass through the stone gates and winding entrance roads of the old Cobb estate. Charles H. Cobb, a wealthy lumber magnate, built his estate in 1916 above Altadena’s old poppy fields. His home was a substantial tile-roofed mansion with Italian cypress and eucalyptus trees along the driveway. After his death in 1939 the home passed through several owners before being razed in 1959, leaving only stone foundations. The Marx Brothers (yes those Marx Brothers) bought the 107-acre tract in 1960 and planned to sell it for use as a cemetery. However local ecologists stepped in, purchased it and turned it over to the Forest Service in 197l as a nature preserve.

Go left and follow the old concrete road which soon turns to dirt up the hilly grounds now growing wild. Just after passing an underground reservoir with a metal roof you follow a trail that leads down to a small creek where the mines/tunnels are located. Total hiking distance is a little less than a mile.

     the writer at the entrance to Tunnel No. 4 1/2  (Melinda Santos 2005)

Gold mining activities in the canyon started no later than 1881 but soon merged with tunneling for irrigation water which was more profitable. The Las Flores Water Company, incorporated in 1885, is the oldest of three small water companies serving the Altadena foothills community. It services 1,471 users in north-central Altadena. An old water company map dated 1906 shows a dozen mines/water tunnels in the canyon. However most of these are now clogged.. Only one, water tunnel No. 8 now gated and locked, is still in operation. However it has not been used for drinking water since 1974 because of excessive fluoride and uranium and is now used only for reclamation purposes.  William Kimberling , foreman for the water company , estimates the tunnel’s length as around 500 feet (in Feburary 2007, the tunnel was mapped at 455 feet). The end has a bulkhead with a metal plate. Old rusted ore cart rails run the length of the tunnel beneath newer water pipes. The writer has entered eight mines/tunnels in the canyon (not including several small exploratory digs) four in the canyon bottom and four up adjoining gullies. Most range in length from 205ft. to 832ft. The longest mine, which is in the canyon bottom, is quite wet with about a foot of water in some places. As in some other mines of the San Gabriels calciferous deposits are found in parts of the mine.

                          Water Tunnel  No. 8 (Blanchard 2005)
Bill Kimberling and Daniel Veelik outside entrance to Tunnel #8 (Hugh Blanchard Feb 2007)

                    Water pipes in Tunnel #8 (Hugh Blanchard Feb 2007)

           Old and new water pipes in Tunnel #8 (Hugh Blanchard Feb 2007)

       Daniel Veelik at end of Tunnel #8- 280' mark (Hugh Blanchard Feb 2007)

The second canyon mine is 205 ft. long.. A third canyon mine (dug open by Mr. Kimberling in late 2004 after being sealed since 1979 due to flooding and erosion following a forest fire) is 455 ft. long and contains an  ore cart filled with old pull-tab beer cans  The first mine up the gully is 453 ft. long and has the remnants of a concrete gate just inside the entrance. The second gully mine is 254 ft. long. A 3rd gully mine is less than 100 ft. Another canyon mine is named the McNally after Andrew McNally, founder of Rand McNally & Company. He was an early winter resident of Altadena and his mansion can still be viewed at the intersection of Mariposa and Santa Rosa Streets.  The old map shows its length as over 400 feet but the tunnel until recently was clogged just inside the entrance. Old records of the water company state it was sealed (for reasons now unknown) during World War II. However efforts to uncover it were begun by Bill Kimberling and later continued by grotto members Daniel and Betty Veelik, Eric and Mike Bull, Dell Quick, Roger Brown and the writer. The tunnel was finally opened up at the 32 foot mark in November 2006. The reopened tunnel was found to extend only 288 feet and ended at a concrete bulkhead with two small water pipes protruding.

     Daniel Veelik with the aid of a come-along removing a large boulder
                 from the entrance to the McNally mine. (July 2006)
                 Daniel Veelik, Hugh Blanchard, Eric & Mike Bull at entrance
                            to McNally mine after reopening (Nov 2006)
    Dan Veelik in the McNally mine (note the rope used for measuring) (Nov 2006)
             Hugh Blanchard and Betty Veelik at bulkhead of McNally mine
                                (288 ft into the mine) (Nov 2006)
           Ore Cart in Twaddell Tunnel (named after Wm. Twaddell- the first mining
                         developer in Las Flores Canyon) (Blanchard 2006)

        looking toward the entrance to tunnel #6 (notice concrete gate frame)
                                            (Blanchard 2006)

        Entrance to tunnel #7- note the partly buried wheelbarrow (Feb 2007)

       calciferous deposits in the form of  "Mine Pearls" (Melinda Santos 2005)

Two other smaller tunnels are located in the gully  100 feet west of the Echo Mountain trail. Both were explored and mapped in February 2006. One is 50 feet and the other 100feet long.  The entrance to the smaller tunnel was almost completely covered with dry mud and presumably had not been entered for many years. The larger tunnel was easier to enter but is farther up the gully and more difficult to reach.

Although located very close to heavily populated areas, relatively few people are aware of their existence. There are several reasons for this. The rough unmarked use trail leading into and through the canyon eventually deteriorates to no trail at all and is marked by numerous clusters of poison oak . The trail is also not mentioned in any guide book.